Vahni Capildeo

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Surya Vahni Priya Capildeo (born 1973) is a Trinidadian writer, and a member of the extended Capildeo family that has produced notable Trinidadian politicians and writers (including V. S. Naipaul, a cousin of Capildeo's, and Neil Bissoondath).[1][2][3][4]


Born in 1973 in Port of Spain, Vahni Capildeo has lived in the United Kingdom since 1991.[4]

She read English at Christ Church, Oxford, and was subsequently awarded a Rhodes Scholarship[5] to pursue graduate work in Old Norse and translation theory, also at Christ Church/the Faculty of English Language and Literature. This led to her PhD thesis, "Reading Egils saga Skallagrímssonar: saga, paratext, translations", completed in 2001.[6] She intermitted from a Research Fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge, in 2000-04 in order to spend time in Trinidad and Jamaica. This produced No Traveller Returns (Salt, 2003),[7] a book-length poem sequence characterized by a reviewer as "a discontinuous meditation on identity and self-awareness. These are merciless poems — mercilessly observant, mercilessly precise",[3] and One Scattered Skeleton, a non-fiction book on the palimpsestic nature of place, memory, and language that takes its title from a poem by the Guyanese poet Martin Carter and moves between the U.K., the Caribbean, and Iceland. Extracts from One Scattered Skeleton have appeared in London: City of Disappearances (ed. Iain Sinclair), Stand Magazine, The Arts Journal (Guyana) and The Caribbean Review of Books.[8]

Person Animal Figure, a set of 45 dramatic monologues in three voices but possibly one character, was published by Jeremy Noel-Tod's Landfill Press in 2005 (

Undraining Sea (completed 2005), a third poetry collection, was published in 2009 from Nathan Hamilton's Norwich-based Eggbox Press.[9] Described in one review as "a wholly recommendable collection",[10] it is a three-section book that actively engages with William Carlos Williams's Paterson. This was followed in 2012 by Dark and Unaccustomed Words (completed 2008), which takes its title from George Puttenham's 16th-century Arte of Poesie. This was Puttenham's critical term for arcane or foreign imports into English. The collection was longlisted for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.[11] The poems in Capildeo's fourth book do not overtly theorize about poetry but rather seek to demonstrate, for example, the feeling and scope of certain parts of speech (prepositions, adjectives), forms, voices, or attitudes.

A fifth book, Utter, was published by Peepal Tree Press in 2013.[12][13] Reviewing the collection in Kaieteur News, Glenville Ashby wrote: "Vahni Capildeo’s 'Utter,' reaches into the belly of the subconscious. It’s intuitive poetry that bellows with unbridled angst.... To aficionados of this literary genre, to the existentialist moved by spirit and intuition, Capildeo is a precious gem; to all others, brace for a work of magnetic befuddlement. Capildeo is that good. That complex."[14] David Caddy in the magazine Tears in the Fence said: "Reading Vahni Capildeo’s Utter ... is an absolute joy, displaying the range and registers that the best of contemporary poetry should exhibit more fully. Capildeo is both Trinidadian and universal."[15]

Capildeo has worked at Oxfam Head Office and for the Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre as a volunteer and a volunteer trainer;[16] for the Oxford English Dictionary; and she has taught at the Universities of Leeds (2009), Greenwich (2009), Sheffield (2009–10), Kingston upon Thames (2010–11), and Glasgow (2012–13).[17] She is a Contributing Editor at the Caribbean Review of Books (edited by Nicholas Laughlin). She was part of the team of Commonwealth Writers, the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation, in 2013-14.[16] She has been appointed to the 2014 Judith E. Wilson Visiting Fellowship in Poetry at the University of Cambridge.

In 2014 Capildeo served as a judge for the Forward Prize.[18][19]



  1. ^ "Trinidad and Tobago: relative values", A year of reading the world, 19 September 2012.
  2. ^ Andre Bagoo, "Dark and unaccustomed words", Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, 13 October 2008.
  3. ^ a b Nicholas Laughlin, "Undiscovered countries", Caribbean Beat, Issue 66 (March/April 2004).
  4. ^ a b Erline Andrews, "Living with the Naipaul legacy Capildeo’s poetry is ‘original, provoking and strange’", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 30 November 2014.
  5. ^ Register of Caribbean Rhodes Scholars. The Rhodes Trust.
  6. ^ "Reading Egils saga Skallagrímssonar: saga, paratext, translations", University of Oxford.
  7. ^ "No Traveller Returns, Vahni Capildeo", Salt Publishing.
  8. ^ "Issues of belonging in Capildeo’s ‘Houses’", Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, 7 January 2011.
  9. ^ "Vahni Capildeo..." at Eggbox.
  10. ^ Andrew Bailey, "Guest Review: Bailey on Capildeo", Eyewear Publishing, 19 May 2011.
  11. ^ "Three TT writers vie for literary award", Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, 28 February 2013.
  12. ^ Vahni Capildeo, Utter, Peepal Tree Press.
  13. ^ "Trinidad and Tobago: Vahni Capildeo – Utter", Poetry postcards, BBC Radio, 10 July 2014.
  14. ^ "Book Review…Vintage Capildeo delivers", Kaieteur News, 16 March 2014.
  15. ^ David Caddy, "Vahni Capildeo’s Utter", Tears in the Fence, 19 December 2013.
  16. ^ a b Vahni Capildeo page, Peepal Tree Press.
  17. ^ Blackbox Manifold, 5 (2010); "Vahni Capildeo",; School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow; "Profile: Vahni Capildeo", Poetry and Pictures at the Museum; "Creative Writing Low Residency MA: Who teaches this course", Kingston University London; "Vahni Capildeo - 'Conversations for a Lifetime in Twenty Minutes and Under'", Infinite Editions, 25 May 2011.
  18. ^ "'A pencil, coffee beans, no alcohol and much muttering'. Vahni Capildeo on judging the Forward Prize 2014".
  19. ^ "Vahni Capildeo", Forward Arts Foundation.

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